A largely awful final day was briefly lit up by Stuart Broad remembering how to bowl, before it descended back into mind-numbing tedium for the final hour.
The first half of Monday was truly, almost incomprehensibly, appalling; the only spells of interest coming as various South African batsmen contrived to gift Kevin Pietersen their wickets. As hilarious as that sort of effort was, it wasn’t exactly the tense finale we were all hoping for. Just at the point where everyone was about to give up the ghost and head to the bar, Broad’s better angels finally shouted down his demons and he produced a terrific spell which managed to keep the Test on life support for a little longer. He is probably the most frustrating player in the team, as well as the most divisive; the 51allout bunker is often filled with the sound of expletive-laden tirades aimed at his lifeless bowling performances, but when he clicks, he really, really clicks.
He took five wickets either side of tea to force South Africa onto the back foot, before Graeme Smith declared to save England the trouble of getting Imran Tahir out. Broad’s dismissal of Jacques Kallis particularly amused us, given that the all-rounder was apparently suffering from back spasms yet seemed perfectly capable of bobbing and weaving out of the way of anything short. He did finally succumb to a Broad bouncer, becoming the first man in history to be ‘enforced out’, before overcoming his terrible affliction to bowl a few meaningless overs at the end. Some spasms they must have been.
For a while England were actually in with a chance of chasing down their final innings target, but Matt Prior’s inexplicable run out doused their brief flicker of aggressive intent in cold water and finished the match as a spectacle. In keeping with the first three innings, batsmen threw their wickets away like they were going out of fashion but with Prior there they could mount a late charge to victory. Instead, he tried to run two to short leg and was left floundering well short of his ground. As infuriating as his wicket was, his reaction made it a golden moment; staring daggers at Jonathan Trott, his partner, as if he’d just slagged off his beard when Trott’s only crime was to have not been monumentally stupid enough to think there was a second run.
With that dismissal went any chance of a positive result, as England shut up shop and saw out the final part of the game. We must salute Smith at this point, because we refused to believe there was anything as awful and audience-repelling as his batting, but it turns out that he managed to go one better by refusing to shake hands on the draw until every member of the crowd had simply stopped living out of sheer boredom at that last hour. The man is a constant surprise.
The ten days between now and the Lord’s decider will inevitably be filled with Pietersen talk, such is the way of the world. Much like the debate over who should be England’s third seamer, we are thoroughly bored of said argument and simply refuse to acknowledge its existence. The final Test is set up quite nicely, with England having to win to square the series and keep clinging on to their number one ranking for a few more weeks. South Africa will presumably be unchanged again – we can only assume Thami Tsolikele is having a lovely time – while five bowler advocates will bleat on and on and on about the make up of the home side next week. England took 19 wickets and were left needing 100 runs to win despite losing almost an entire day to rain, so obviously they need to shoot the script with a grenade launcher and start all over again.